GILES SMITH'S THURSDAY THOUGHTS

Posted on: Thu 23 Jan 2014

With a little more time away from watching Chelsea than is sometimes the case, columnist Giles Smith is able to draw some important conclusions about the best way to live a football fan's life…


I picked up an interesting statistic on my way into the ground last Sunday afternoon - and one which settled a few pre-match nerves, I must say. I was in the Gents, and I overheard someone declare: 'We've never lost under Phil Dowd, you know.'

By the way, those pre-match nerves - odd, I admit, in the circumstances. But I've never been one of those confident fans who shows up at games in a relaxed mood, in the full expectation of victory. I always tend to be a little edgy, going in, no matter who we're playing - whether it's a lower division team in a cup competition whose chances are fancied by nobody, or even if it's Manchester United in their current form.

It's not so much a question of the glass being half full or half empty. It's more a matter of the glass being 1-0 up until the 89th minute, say, and then getting sucker-punched by a dodgy last-ditch equaliser - from a set-piece, most likely - with no time to come back. That sort of thing.

And call me old-fashioned, and stuck in the past, but I thought Manchester United could pose a reasonable threat - perhaps a threat of that very, late-equalising nature - to our recent, highly promising, extremely solid-looking and very well-timed run of form.

Which, of course, they didn't, as it happened. They collapsed like a souffle in a wind tunnel, became increasingly cross and confused, and spent most of the four minutes of time-added-on on some kind of kamikaze mission, trying to go down to nine men.

Nevertheless, my shoulders were a little bit lower than they might have been, from the kick-off onwards. Because when Phil Dowd referees, we don't lose. I heard it in the Gents.

Fantastic, isn't it? And also not true, as I discovered later, when I went home and looked it up. Dowd refereed our surprising 1-0 defeat away at West Brom as recently as March 2012, as it turns out, and was also the man with the whistle at a number of other Premier League defeats for us.

All in all - and stop me if I'm boring you here - we have a 67.57 win percentage in games refereed by Dowd, which is handsome, but some significant way short of 100 per cent, and leaves him with some work still to do, clearly. We also have a 16.22 loss percentage and a 16.22 draw percentage.

All of which means… er… nothing very much, really. But it's always good to have the figures at your fingertips. Knowledge is power, after all. And, as I discovered on Sunday, knowledge is confidence.

I'm a big fan of David Moyes, and, to judge from the warm-hearted singing of 'We want you to stay' which rang right around the ground last Sunday afternoon, I'm not alone in that feeling. Like a lot of people, I hugely admired what he did at Everton. And I admire even more what he's doing at United.

Yet, of course, some people are never happy, and a large number of them seemed to have called up the phone-in that I was listening to in the car on the way home from Sunday's match. One man in particular seemed to speak for them all when he said, in a very mournful voice, 'It's not like United.'

But, of course, it is. Losing to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League is something that Manchester United have done with a high degree of consistency in recent years - more often than not, in fact. Their victory here last season was their first in a decade. You have to go back nearly 20 years before you find a period when United were at all comfortable, with any regularity, on our ground.

And let's not forget that Sunday's 3-1 defeat, though clearly kind of embarrassing for United, was of a different order of embarrassment altogether from the 5-0 defeat they suffered here in 1999, when even Jody Morris managed to score and blew a fake trombone all the way back to the centre circle.

Morris

So, it wasn't quite fair to say, after Sunday's game, 'It's not like United'. It was exactly like United.

And in any case, people should relax a bit. The season is only 22 games old, after all, and United are only 46 points off the top of the league (or however many it is). I say the time to judge David Moyes is 10 years from now. Meanwhile he should be left alone to keep on doing what he's doing.

A whole week separated the away win at Derby in the FA Cup from the away win at Hull in the league. And then another whole week separated the win at Hull from the win at home to Manchester United last Sunday. And yet another whole week will have separated the win against Manchester United from this coming Sunday's FA Cup fourth round match at home to Stoke.

Spot the connection? Next Wednesday's match at home to West Ham will break the sequence. And then it's not long until the Champions League starts up again, at which point something more like the old, quicker, high-intensity rhythm that we're used to will return.

But, since the new year opened, this has been a relatively quiet, almost old-fashioned-feeling period - one in which we've been able to stretch out our feet somewhat, in an old-school, one-game-per-week schedule. And what have we learned from it? On the one hand, the calmness of weekly matches has its soothing merits, especially after the exhausting mayhem of Christmas, when a new fixture seemed to be coming along roughly every 10 minutes.

On the other hand, when you're used to the games rushing at you quickly, the emptiness of the week, and the sheer absence of football in it, can seem a bit eerie and make you feel like you're not, somehow, fully engaged - that there's something missing.

Or, to put it another way, it's like being Liverpool who, as has frequently been the case over the past decade or so, aren't involved in many competitions this year, and who, as our manager pointed out not that long ago, are essentially on holiday for most of the season.

So, on the whole, yes, the occasional short period of relative inactivity is OK and no doubt gives us all a set of useful breaks in which to catch our breath. At the same time, though, the energy that comes from continuous involvement can keep a club's fire burning - players and supporters alike.

In other words, it's OK to be like Liverpool, once in a while - maybe for three weeks or so. But it's better, on the whole, to be successful and busy.